FIFA World Cup qualifiers: Spain rule out Kosovo; Belgium perceives Belarus
Goals from Pablo Fornals and Ferran Torres earned Spain a 2-0 victory over Kosovo in Group B of World Cup qualifying on Wednesday and brought them back in the race for automatic qualifying.
Fornals had a nice finish near the corner post in the 32nd minute after clever construction play from Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata.
Spain dominated the ball for large parts of the game but were nearly defeated on numerous occasions as their high defensive line was exploited by the host.
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He was indebted for the stupendous finishes, in particular to Vedat Muriqi, who escaped the goal but unleashed his strike from Unai Simon’s left post.
Simon then almost offered the host an equalizer as he came out of his box to meet a long ball over it, only to find himself in a falling out with Inigo Martinez.
The Athletic Bilbao striker was just able to turn back the clock and stop Florian Loshaj’s effort to keep Spain in the lead.
It turned out to be a crucial save as Torres sealed the victory in the 90th minute on a counterattack. After initially being flagged offside, the goal was awarded following a VAR check.
“It was a tough game until the end,” said defender Aymeric Laporte.
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“Getting that second at the end was liberating in tough conditions. The pitch was tough to play our football.
“They have their own weapons and a few quick forwards, but the important thing is that we have the result. We have to win all of our remaining games if we are to dominate the group.”
Luis Enrique’s side have won the group with 13 points from six games, four ahead of Sweden who have played two games less.
Greece beat Sweden 2-1 on Wednesday to climb to third place with six points.
Praet scores for Belgium in narrow win over Belarus
Dennis Praet’s first-half goal saw Belgium win 1-0 away against Belarus in Kazan on Wednesday to move closer to qualifying for the World Cup.
The midfielder’s 33rd-minute goal kept Belgium’s unbeaten streak in Group E as they reached 16 points, nine points ahead of the Czech Republic, who played one game less, and the Country. Wales, who are two games short.
Praet turned off Belarusian goalkeeper Sergei Chernik after a short pass from Alexis Saelemaekers, two minutes after Michy Batshuayi had the ball in the net but his shot was ruled offside.
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FIFA top Belgium scored eight goals against Belarus at the start of the World Cup qualifiers in March, but this time looked tired after a third game in six days, having beaten Estonia and the Czech Republic in their two previous qualifiers.
It was without Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen suspended and elected to spare Thibaut Courtois, Yannick Carrasco and Axel Witsel the long trip to Russia, where Belarus was forced to host the match due to theft sanctions.
Captain Eden Hazard started off the bench and only came on after an hour, but failed to deliver the expected spark. His free kick four minutes from full time, however, forced Chernik to a screeching halt.
Belarus, which did not hamper Belgium in the game, have now lost four of the five qualifications and sit second from the bottom of the group.